It’s exciting to get The Call, but it also means you’re going to want to find out as much as possible about the agent before agreeing to representation. In fact, when you get the call, you may want to ask for some time to think about it, then gather your questions and get back to them.
There are a few things you should try to find out on your own before you start bombarding them with questions. Read the agent’s website. If they have a blog, spend some time browsing around it to get a feel for their personality and opinions. Know what genres they represent, and if they have a specialty. See if they list current clients and books they’ve sold. Try not to waste valuable phone time on questions you can get answered from the agent’s website or blog.
Here are some questions you might consider asking, but you probably won’t want to ask all of them. Choose what’s most important to you.
What are the terms of the representation being offered? Is there a time limit? Is it for one book, or is it open ended?
If you and the agent agree to work together, what will happen next? What’s the expected process?
Does the agent use a written author-agent agreement? (See this post.)
What happens if either the agent or the client wants to end the relationship?
If the agent/client relationship is terminated, what is the policy for any unsold rights in the works the agent has represented?
ABOUT THE AGENT
How long has the agent been an agent? How long have they been in publishing, and what other positions have they held?
What are the last few titles the agent has sold?
Does the agent belong to any professional organizations? Is the agent listed on Publishers Marketplace?
Does the agent handle film rights, foreign rights, audio rights? Is there a specialist at their agency who handles these rights?
How does the agent keep clients informed about their activities on client’s behalf?
Does the agent prefer phone or email, or are they okay with both?
How often does the agent want the client to check in?
What are the agent’s business hours?
Does the agent let you know where and when they submit your work?
Does the agent forward rejection letters to the client?
What happens when the agent is on vacation?
Does the agent consult with the client on all offers from publishers? Does the agent make any decisions on behalf of client?
What is the agent’s percentage?
Does the author receive payments directly from the publisher, or do payments go through the agent first?
How long after the agent receives advances and royalties will they send them to you?
Does the agent charge for mailing? Copies? Faxes? Phone calls? Any other fees?
CAREER & EDITORIAL ISSUES
What publishers does the agent think would be appropriate for your book?
How close is your book to being ready for submission? Will there be a lot of editing and rewriting first?
Does the agent help with career planning?
Does the agent work with a publicist?
How does the agent feel about authors switching genres?
Will the agent edit and help you revise your work?
What if the agent doesn’t like your next book?
Please note, these questions are appropriate to ask ONLY if the agent has offered you representation. Don’t grill an agent with questions like this if you’re at a conference, for example.
Also, there aren’t necessarily “right” answers to all of these, because there are many legitimate ways for agents to do business. Your main goal is to be informed so you’re not surprised by something later.
Michael Hyatt (CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers) has some great advice about questions to ask an agent, as well as ways to research an agent before hiring one. See his post “Before You Hire a Literary Agent.”
Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, WordServe Literary Group, Colorado.